Series: Labor Unions Today
The right to work and “right-to-work.”
When we juxtapose the terms, it points out that they do not mean the same thing. In fact, since the political concept of right-to-work was introduced in 1936, Americans have misunderstood it to the full degree that was intended. Right-to-work laws make it illegal to require employee support for the union that negotiates a contract, even though the union contract must benefit every employee. Even as we notice how unfair this is, right-to-work is creating a separation of views – those who uphold union membership and those who look only for benefits. Right-to-work, aka right-to-freeload, destroys the strength of employees’ united voices, exactly as desired. These laws are devised to corrode employee solidarity and leave every individual with a diminished and disregarded view about workplace safety, fair pay, work hours, and every other condition we have come to expect in a job.
Free bargaining laws preserve our real right to fair, safe work. When statutes support union security with 100% affiliation, everyone has a role in the contract and, therefore, the quality and safety of the work. Currently, American worker solidarity assures an average of $5971 in higher annual wages, higher health benefits, lower poverty rates, and less than half the risk of workplace fatality in right -to-work states. Union secure laws promote a healthy balance of workplace authority and vigorous environments for ideas, standards, and regulations.
A hundred years ago, Joe Hill may have envisioned the potential of free bargaining laws. He definitely understood the power of a united workforce to achieve the kind of safe work and fair income now on the decline with lower union membership. A Joe Hill song about right-to-work would likely portray the clever anti-labor politician, Vance Muse, who successfully dupes a working class caricature with another “pie in the sky.”
This guest post was written by
American Federation of Teachers Utah
Secretary-Treasurer, Central Utah Federation of Labor